It’ll never work

 by turbinetastic

I see so often on anti-wind opinion pieces a variation on the theme of “it’ll never work”. It might be “wind power will never work” or “we’ll have blackouts if we rely too heavily on wind power”. It might be a comment on wind power’s intermittency or unpredictability.

All of which ignores the one blatantly obvious fact: wind power is currently here, and currently working.

That one fact marshalls all of the variations of “it’ll never work” into some sort of logical reductionist argument with unspoken assumptions. The first and most obvious unspoken assumption is “apart from under current conditions”. The contribution of wind power has been gradually increasing without experiencing blackouts (even under extreme wind conditions). This leads me to the conclusion that the speaker is generally assuming that there’s some sort of event horizon, beyond which the cataclysm will occur. I’ve never been able to figure out what precisely that event horizon looks like, because that particular assumption is never made clear. Still, the speakers do have a few facts on their side — there’s more to making wind power work on a country-wide scale than simply building the wind farms and plugging them in.

As we increase the market share of wind power, the important thing is that we are continually checking that today and tomorrow we can keep the lights on. Whatever we’re changing, we need to know we have it under control, even given the difficulties of predicting the wind. This will get more important, not less, as other renewable technologies begin to form part of our electricity supply, because instead of simply worrying about how windy it is, we may also have to consider what state the tide is in, if there are large waves offshore, and whether there’s been a lot of sun.

I was therefore glad to see the news that planned upgrades to Scotland’s electricity grid have been fast-tracked. Grid upgrades don’t tend to get an easy time from the planning process; people don’t like pylons any more than they like wind turbines. Still, we cannot ever lose sight of the sheer scale of the changes we, as renewable energy generators, are pressing on to our aging grid structure. Not only is the power source (relatively) unpredictable and intermittant, it’s also situated on windy hillsides far from the population centres of demand.

Coping with these challenges requires greater connectivity between countries, a more flexible network, and of course more capacity in the windy but sparsely populated north of Scotland. Energy storage and demand mitigation are other techniques which are actually happening to a greater or lesser extent.

It’ll never work, if the grid remains the same old aging structure and we simply keep piling in more wind farms. Thankfully the clever people who operate and maintain the grid know that too, and are working on it. It’s not a “so we should just give up” situation, it’s another “let’s rise to meet the challenge”.

It can work, and it is working. With ingenuity, attention to detail and positivity, it can continue to work.


‘Turbinetastic’ is a wind industry professional who has kindly agreed to syndicate their posts to this blog. This post was originally published on turbinetastic’s  own blog on 01/02/2012.


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